The winter season can bring snow or ice, but for fourth grade teacher Angelica Afande, it’s a season of celebration. Afande recently hosted her annual Winter Celebration, and this year was the most people she’s served in her 10 years of giving.
At Rainier View Elementary, over 200 students and their family members attended the celebration on Dec. 17. Afande and a group of supportive volunteers helped ensure each person had a fond memory of this winter season.
“It’s just a joy to serve the community,” Afande said. “We should all serve the community in one way or another because it’s a blessing to be here.”
Afande has hosted toy donation events for the past 10 years. Afande is originally from Kenya, and her gift-giving gig started when she visited several years ago the house of a friend who had a new baby. She asked where their Christmas tree was, where the presents were.
A week later, Afande said she returned to the friend’s house with Santa Claus in tow, bringing gifts and celebrations galore.
“From there it’s been building, building,” Afande said. Previously, the largest group she served was about 150 people. This year, the Winter Celebration welcomed more than 200 people.
Prior to the pandemic, the holiday events were hosted at A Church By the Side of the Road in Tukwila, where Afande has worshipped for the past 30 years, but event space wasn’t guaranteed this year.
So, Afande asked her school’s principal and the event found a new home for this year.
She began promoting the toy drive to her networks of friends, coworkers and family members. But it all seemed to happen a bit magically. Where did the donations come from?
“I don’t know,” Afande said with a laugh. “They just appeared!” Toys were donated by local churches, South King Fire and Rescue and Assistant Chief Kevin Crossen, and community members. She got connected with local nonprofit leader Shelley Pauls, and initially asked for just extra candy canes for the celebration. A few days later, Pauls brought everything from snacks to toys for the event, Afande said.
“She just swept me off my feet,” Afande said.
On Saturday, dozens of families received toys, gift cards to Chick-fil-A and many holiday snacks, too. Federal Way-based African Young Dreamers Empowerment Program International (AYDEPI), which supports immigrant youth, donated juice, snacks and cups.
“It felt really good, but I also had my friends that I started with 10 years ago, they come along because I always need their support,” she said, thanking them for their time, cash donations and gifts. A fellow teacher at her school also helped wrap all the presents.
Attendees “were so, so happy and that’s what we wanted,” she said. Extra toys were delivered on Monday, Dec. 19, to families at the Park 16 Apartments.
Naming the toy giveaway event a “Winter Celebration” allowed people of all nationalities, religions and cultures to attend and enjoy, she noted.
Afande said she has a passion for helping people who are experiencing homelessness and people who are new to America. Many children or their parents in Federal Way are immigrants, often of Somali or Afghan populations, she said.
As a foreigner, Afande said, she relied on the help of many people when she moved to the United States from Kenya. She said she sees this as a way to share blessings that were once given to her.
She works with refugees once they arrive in the U.S., taking them shopping, translating, teaching English or assisting with transportation. Afande also works with people with special needs at the Federal Way Community Center. She holds many titles — the most constant being “grateful.”